Trolling the Bastards On the Bridge

Even before one opens the executable to play a game, the level of interactivity the player will be permitted has been predetermined by factory-set parameters. Simple, stringent, and closed to discussion is the politics of consent regarding the use of interactive media. A prospective player faces two options: either participate in the game, and thereby comply with the rules of the game and accept one’s new identity as a ward of the game state; or abstain from the game. “With us or against us, Player One. What’ll it be?” Depending on the particular game’s present status in gaming forums, the foul fruits of one’s resisting the temptation to play it may be unpalatable anonymity or, far worse, a bitter stigma on one’s name: obstructionist; hater; troll.

The writer treads softly, carries a big stick. By one’s own contrariwise nature, the writer of this article could be branded, rightly or falsely, a troll. That monster without a country, the troll has come to represent the harshest voices in the public forum, characterized by abrasiveness for its own sake. Like other buzzwords with origins on the internet, the act of trolling must be crowd-sourced to be understood. Definitions of trolling abound. Academics have wrestled with it. The business savvy have employed its ugly methods. Working-class heroes and hate-mongering scoundrels fit the bill.

Important to our cause: two fiercely trolled franchises mentioned in the previous post have special places in the hearts of censorship-hating gamers. That Caesarimitating controversy-stirring lover of movies, the late Roger Ebert, was branded a troll (by other trolls) for speaking his mind on the subject of gaming’s place in the Zeitgeist. The abrasiveness of trolls, matched in intensity by their ingrown loneliness for freaks like themselves.

Let’s think, now, about the proverbial troll under the bridge. Classically, he is seen as a villain, his hunger reprehensible and his tactics those of intimidation and terror. To the moral absolutists on the bridge, he is mad, snarling, a would-be devourer of the defenseless. The troll’s physical position under the bridge separates him from the billy goats on the bridge, their culture and its prevailing ideologies. He dwells in a shadow realm between two fields, two worlds. In the story, the picture of justice features greener pastures for meek billy goats and death by violence for vulgar trolls.

Turn the tables, give the bridge-promenading billy goats the bad name. What need does a billy goat have of a bridge? They swim just fine and go where they please, impervious to gravity – trolling physics, as it were.


The backwardness of the trolling label does not stop there: if an internet troll is, essentially, a bully, wouldn’t a more hurtful label be one which evokes the big bad third billy goat who trounces the troll? Perhaps, but to give the question its due regard, we would have to play the internet troll’s game.

2 thoughts on “Trolling the Bastards On the Bridge

  1. I want to start by checking my understanding of the intro.
    You’re musing on the fact that after installing a game, one’s immediately limited to choosing between playing the game or not? Or perhaps you’re musing on the limits accepted if one chooses to play? Agreeing to be confined to rules one’s incapable of defining? I’d argue that, at its most basic level, boundaries and regulations are what define a game. Should we rebel against, or even discuss, the fact that we can’t play games without agreeing to rules?

    As to our inability to shape these rules I’d point you to DOOM’s .wad files of 20 years ago ( or the vast skyrim modding community (for example: to refute that notion.

    Regardless of these disagreements, the entire opening is a Simpsons like bait and switch, leading to I think the claim that refusing to play certain games might get someone labeled a troll, all a segue to your conclusion that we’ve got our terminology mixed up?

    I think maybe we’re being goated here.

  2. Thanks for reading. I appreciate your assessment of the post’s opener. There is definitely some misdirection afoot (ahoof?). At the same time, it got you asking some of questions I want readers to think about.

    Insofar as the role reversal, goats as trolls: with this blog as a whole, I’m attempting, perhaps unsuccessfully in this particular post, a sort of Situationist International detournement of gaming and the meaning-making we do while playing video games. A perception mod for the video game player, in a sense.

    Mods are indeed rule-shaping. However, as I am more fluent in the King’s than in coding…

    My interest is in the process of meaning-making. In my view, games play a big part in how we assign meaning to things – and not just regarding bold-faced join the army and shoot dudes propaganda like Call of Duty or America’s Army. I see games – not just video games, all games – as political exercises in consent by two or more parties. We agree to play the game. (Implicit in the meaning switch between goat and troll is the esoteric observation that to engage in public discussion using common language is also to play a game. And, as you point out, for every game a mod, hence the detournement…)

    Should we share publicly our refusal to complete a game like the Witcher 2, which might as well be the Windows 8 of action-gaming for enormous potential squandered by user-unfriendliness, out of the woodwork come the fanboy/trolls chanting “TROLL!” For context, consider the ire Zero Punctuation faces.

    I mention Ebert in the post and I feel his essay is important, though its focus on “expression” as a mark of art is misguided. The primary definition of “expression,” per google define (most trusted name in modern meaning-making), uses the term “making known one’s thoughts or feelings.” Expression as a mark of art would imply, first, that the artist is competent to “express” an impalpable something of which he is already in possession; and second, a successful transaction of said something, with all its explicit and implicit meaning, between artist and art-appreciator: transmission, reception, and integration of formless art-Pokemon. Rather, I would propose, artistic expression as defined above is incidental to its primary purpose: to stir up and excite new meaning-making, in the artist himself during the process of creation and, later, in the audience who engage with it.

    I am glad you brought up .WAD files, and not just because the potential puns make me giggle. Takes me back to gaming’s glory days.

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